In this article kindergarten as an arena for cultural
formation will be discussed by highlighting three examples from routines and
everyday life in a kindergarten1. Seemingly insignificant activities are placed
on the agenda. Such activities in kindergarten might be loaded with critical
knowledge about formatting processes, processes about how kindergarten as an
institutional space with its "inhabitants", with its artifacts, its rules,
regulations and curricula constitute an arena for cultural formation.
The following three examples represent the framework for the article:
When the oneyearold children see plates and cups being put on the table, they
run towards their teacher to help her.
When Peter and his oneyearold mates enter the room where the weekly music
session takes place they immediately start to slap their hands on their thighs.
Tom, the teacher2, follows up and sings the welcome song in which the
thighslapping is an important element, together with the children.
When the teacher registers that it is 11 o'clock, she starts to prepare the
children for their daily sleep in their prams in the outdoor area.
The article has two agendas. The first is to reveal what kind of knowledge
might be embedded in these examples. The other is a methodological one,
claiming discourse analysis to be suitable for illuminating daily practices in
kindergarten as representing dominating discourses about kindergarten practice.
What can be learned from highlighting details and analyzing them from a
discourse theoretical perspective?
The discursive perspective, with use of key concepts from the French
philosopher Michel Foucault, will be outlined before the examples are
A Foucauldian perspective
The theoretical support stems first and foremost from Michel
Foucault's work on discourse, discursive space, powerknowledge, truth patterns
and selftechnologies (Foucault, 1980, 1988). Choosing discourse theory and
Foucault's ideas as a theoretical framework for analyzing kindergarten
discourses is rather unusual (MacNaughton, 2005, p. 5). More common is the use
of sociocultural perspectives, with activity theory and dialogue perspectives,
which might give crucial insight into specific issues concerning the relation
between children and adults in kindergarten. Brian Edmiston, drawing mainly on
Bakthin, shows, though, in his book how a combination of
"interrelated social constructivist theories of development, imagination and
play (Vygotsky 1967; 1978; 1986), poststructural analysis of power
relationships (Foucault, 1977; 1978; 1980) in early childhood settings (Dyson,
1997; Dahlberg et al., 1999; Grieshaber and Canella, 2001; Tobin, 1997; 2000;
Mac Naughton, 2000;
1 In a Norwegian context, kindergarten is an "early years" institution.
2 The teacher in a Norwegian kindergarten has a bachelor degree specialized in
kindergarten education. T. Bergesen Schei
2005), as well as social positioning and cultural anthrorules, regulations,
curricula. This power is the producpological analysis of improvisation, agency
and identity tive element that makes people act, think and speak in formation
(Davies and Harre, 1990, Harre and certain ways, and not in others (Foucault,
Langenhove, 1999; Holland et al., 1998; Holland and ``might think that it is so
only for adults. The examples in Lave, 2001) (Edmiston, 2008, p.
also might provide the research with a rich variety of understandings. What a
discourse theoretical perspective highlights, in particular, are questions
concerning the "how" in everyday life and the significance of this "how" that
makes people act and speak in predictable patterns. One might become aware of
the significance of chosen artifacts for play, of staff habits and of rules
followed in kindergarten from this social epistemological perspective3.
Foucault's approach to knowledge about institutions, cultural and personal
relations and constructions of identities has been radical in ways of
interpreting how knowledge is produced. He claimed that in a discourse there
are rules of formation for objects, for concepts and for theories. In interview
(Tullgren, 2004, p. 61) he said:
"These are the rules put into operation through a discursive practice at a
given moment that explain why a certain thing is seen (or omitted); why it is
envisaged under such an aspect and analyzed at such a level; why such a word is
employed with such a meaning and in such a sentence."
The rules Foucault talks about are the socalled "regimes of truth",
representing the silent consensus about what is right and what is wrong to do,
what is good and bad, what is normal and what is not. "Each field of knowledge,
such as early childhood studies, health care or social work, expands by
developing officially sanctioned truth that govern normal and desirable ways
to think, act and feel," writes Mac Naughton (2005, p. 29). When a regulation,
a norm or a standard has become normal, no one questions why. They submit to
the rules and regulate their practice to what they find normal in this space of
"Discourse has a quite specific meaning. It refers to groups of statements
which structure the way a thing is thought, and the way we act on the basis of
that thinking. In other words, discourse is a particular knowledge about the
world which shapes how the world is understood and how things are done in it."
(Rose, 2007, p. 142).
This is a kind of conformity that regulates institutions like kindergartens,
schools, hospitals and other fields where large groups of people should be
familiar with the boundaries that exist and delimit what is normal to do and
what is expected (Foucault, 1971, 1979). These boundaries might be unspoken,
but nonetheless very efficient. Everyone, according to Foucault, regulates
their practice in accordance with them. Foucault's work has shown that the
consensus within a field establishes a certain powerrelation between those in
the field; not a power that governs, but a power that makes everyone position
oneself to act as if the others have been given a position to act from. But the
power does not belong to a person. Power is what arises between people, as a
consequence of implementing institutional this article will support the
idea that power regulates everyone in the discourse.
Research based on discourse analysis can help reveal how
"knowledge" in early childhood is constructed and becomes dominant. Discourse
analysis aims to map and examine the content of the discourses in order to
analyze the different components, to see the power relations between them, and
to learn how power constructs individuals within a space of action to act in
some ways and not in others. The purpose of discourse analysis is not
necessarily to contribute to the change of a practice, but to unveil it, to
make dominant practices visible and demonstrate how things are done within the
practice. Foucault describes discourse analysis as an analysis of material
I am not looking underneath discourse for the thought of men, but try to grasp
discourse in its manifest existence, as a practice that obeys certain rules —
of formation, coexistence — and systems of functioning. It is this practice,
in its consistency and almost in its materiality, that I describe. (Tullgren,
2004, p. 58).
The discourse will be possible to map when the researcher, after systematic and
thorough review of the empirical material, understands the takenforgranted
premises for action. Several discourses may be active within a field. It is
possible to separate one discourse from another when asking questions like:
what does not happen here? What is unspoken and what is natural? If the
children have different rules of behaviour in different departments of the
kindergarten, an assumption would be to examine the rules as components of
different discourses, to be able to understand where the boundaries are.
This type of analysis is especially appropriate for illuminating daily
practices, to explore the conditions for cultural formation or to understand
what it is that constitutes the meaningful daily activities. It can be helpful
for the kindergarten teacher and other staff to become aware of the content of
a discourse to be able to discuss what is satisfying about the practice and
what may need change. An important condition for change could be to introduce
various ways to conceptualize cultural formation, e.g. as an ongoing process
in every member of the kindergarten society.
This scientific approach will highlight some events and ignore others. Being
aware of this fact is crucial, because blind spots in the researcher's
empirical material will not be seen. Doing discourse analysis is one
perspective from which to produce knowledge, it will seek to highlight
takenforgranted practices as critical, and therefore interesting.
Mapping everyday practices
To be able to think discursively as a researcher it is
necessary to map discourses as discursive practices, to formulate research
questions in ways that make it apparent what "truth patterns" rule the persons
studied and what guidelines make them act and speak as they do. Through the
mapping, some ways of speaking or ways of being will appear as important,
correct and sensible. It involves the meanings that linguistic utterances
represent, and the consequences they might have, because the relationship
between language and meaning is a driving force that is both a social and a
This is what Foucault describes as power relations — not control power, but the
power that constitutes the positions between people (Foucault, 1980). It is a
search for the routines and practices that are seldom questioned, because they
constitute "good childhood" for the children, the right ways of being in
dialogue with the children and the effective and strategic ways of exploiting
the possibilities in the curriculum. The staff will most likely during the day
discuss practical issues, such as schedules, meal preparations, plans for
outdoor activities and so on. Information about daily life and routines are to
be found on the billboard, where details about who is doing what and when,
often signed by the manager or the kindergarten teacher, are posted. These
routines might be understood as the cultural practices that the staff submit
to. Such cultural practices can be exemplified by how social patterns between
staff and children are unfolded.
Every morning the staff meet the children with a specific approach, as they do
when they have outdoor activities, setting the lunch table, playing and drawing
with the children and saying goodbye in the afternoon. They conduct these
routines in specific ways. To act in accordance with such procedures is to
submit to these procedures, which in turn means that you accept them as
reference points for daily practice. The challenge for the researcher is to
stick to the material and concrete practice, to study these repeated actions
again and again, because they will most likely constitute a pattern of habits,
ways of speaking, ways of approaching the children and the colleagues. This is
precisely where the discourse is and it is possible to identify and label it
when these factors emerge as a pattern for the researcher. That is why
seemingly insignificant events, like what artifacts that are made available for
the children before lunch or how the lunch table is set, hold information
about formatting processes that have significant consequences.
Such apparently insignificant events are compounded with information about
what the staff hold as true criteria for a good life in kindergarten and the
researcher's challenge is to understand how what the staff tell each other and
the children, has consequences for how they act. Ways of speaking might
function as a disciplinary power and construct specific ways of being to
maintain what they hold to be right and wrong.
Foucault calls this disciplinary power governmentality (Foucault, 1972), with
consequences for how people relate to themselves, each other and to rules and
regulations (Dean, 2006). Confidence in "the truth" exists between people when
it is accepted and followed.
Selftechnology is another productive concept that might help to understand how
the subject uses disciplinary strategies to emerge as competent.
"Technologies of the Self" permit individuals to effect by their own means or
with the help of others a certain number of operations on their own bodies and
souls, thoughts, conducts and ways of being, so as to transform themselves in
order to attain a certain state of happiness, purity, wisdom, perfection and
immortality". (Foucault, 1988, p. 18).
Selftechnologies is about how the subject practically, mentally and concretely
conforms to, and disciplines itself (Schei & Kruger, 2008). "Via dominating
discourses and practices human beings construct themselves as subjects"
(Dahlberg & Moss, 2005, p. 143).
Studying what happens when disagreements arise is useful because the struggling
discourses will then appear. The dominating discourse is constituted by that
which is accepted as a current norm. Several discourses might circulate in the
field at the same time, but they will all struggle for the defining power. Such
struggles can occur in subtle ways, such as what is not being reported to the
manager of the kindergarten, by not taking responsibility for a specific task
or not submitting to what the manager demands.
A mapping of how the staff discuss procedures and room dispositions and also
what they specifically say or omit to say can produce knowledge on different
levels. It gives insight into how the framework functions and what knowledge
"sits in the walls" and make the silent power active. It is efficient and it
might be tagged a "majority misunderstanding" because everyone abides by what
they believe that all the others do (Schei, 2007,
p. 47).To experience requirements that "no one" claims but that "everyone" can
experience is a majority misunderstanding. It includes demands and
expectations that one includes the others, such as the kindergarten arena, the
curricula, the ruling government, the manager of the kindergarten. Such demands
might be thought of as internal, because they are the subject's own norms, much
like the conscience.
The empirical data
Knowledge that might be embedded in the three examples
mentioned in the introduction will now be unfolded. The empirical material
consists of 100 hours of observation, field notes of organized and unorganized
activities and of interviews with staff from a period of half a year. The
research is a part project in a larger research called "Kindergarten as an
arena for cultural formation" (Odegaard, 2012).The observation also includes
"textual reading" of the homepage, bulletin boards in the different departments
and informal con
T. Bergesen Schei
versations and formal interviews with the staff. A specific
focus has been put on practical issues, like space solutions, available
artifacts, the annual cycle and its implementation.
The point of departure was to study the children and their selfstaging in
everyday life; to examine how the children shaped themselves or how they were
being shaped by others in the cultural space of action called kindergarten
(Schei, 2010, 2012). A purpose was to explore how teaching in kindergarten
unfolds, how it is arranged and how it gives the children a venue to create
meaning in (Bjervas, 2011).
The children were observed throughout the day, during morning rituals, eating
sessions, reading time, unorganized play, outdoor activities and organized
artrelated activities. Organized music sessions have been highlighted since
this kindergarten has music as a specialty, according to their website. The
study became more and more focused around the youngest children, those between
one and two years old. The reason for this was that age was one of the criteria
for grouping. There were 150 children in total. All those aged 4—6 were placed
together in one house, while the 90 children under the age of three had another
house. Within this house they put oneyearolds together in groups of ten. Three
such groups had shared room for games, but not for eating.
By following up one group with oneyearolds in particular it was possible to
narrow down and concentrate also on one single child, Peter, 18 months old. He
was openminded and curious, eager to play and very communicative with his eyes
and body language. What were his actions during one day? When did he contact
other children? What guidelines were offered him? Such questions were important
during the analysis of the empirical material.
Example 1: A discourse about participation
Looking into the first example of this article; a teacher preparing a meal, and
Peter and the other oneyearold children running to the kitchen to help her, we
learn that it is normal for the children to prepare the meals together with the
staff and it is normal for the staff that the children participate. The
children are not being served a meal, but implicitly taught without words that
participation is necessary and natural. This is the way things are done here.
They prepare the meal together, and then they share the meal. They are being
taught through action how preparation of a meal can be meaningful (PercySmith
& Thomas, 2010). Understanding the actions in the kitchen space is to
realize that there has been a process of normalization where the little
children act as they are being taught. The standard of meal preparation is that
the teachers expect the children to contribute, but this is so obvious that the
teachers do not have to draw attention of it. The children are disciplined to
putting into action this everyday activity of preparing the meal. "Today,
established notions of development intersect with 'a new normality of the
child' — a child who will be flexible, who is developmentally ready for the
uncertainties and opportunities of the twentyfirst century." states Dahlberg
and Moss (2005, p. 7).
Considering oneyearold children as capable of setting the table reveals a
specific attitude to child development and what they are capable of mastering
at age one. Using Foucault; the staff's consensus about what is part of the
oneyearold child's development is implicit in this attitude towards the
children. The staff bring to life their belief in the children as capable of
contributing even if they are young. This is an important element in the new
discourse about Norwegian childhood, a perspective on children and childhood
that has developed internationally since the 1980s (Korsvold, 2008). Central in
new social studies of childhood is a common interest in the child, not as a
problem, not as an object, but as itself, not characterized as a oneyearold and
therefore vulnerable, but oneyearold and part of society (Bae, u.a.; Bjervas,
This discourse constructs a particular understanding of how staff should act
and what children should do. The discourse offers the child space to explore,
to help and contribute as capable. This stance has an ethical dimension and
the staff are challenged in the discourse to act in accordance with the norms
of Norwegian childhood.
Example 2: A discourse about musicking as an important activity
Now let us examine the second example, Peter and his mates who start to slap
their hands on their thighs when they enter the room where the music activities
happen. What could the reason be?
Once or twice a week the oneyearolds are guided into the music room, an
exquisitely decorated room with all kinds of instruments. Some instruments are
placed on shelves on the wall, other are hidden under carpets. Mats to sit on
are placed along two walls that meet in a corner. The room is temporarily split
in the middle to surprise the children by bringing out instruments or toys
from under a carpet. The teacher Tom is already playing the flute as the
children enter the room where he sits in the middle.
The situation where the children enter the room, sit down in the exact place
that they sat last time and face Tom, has been observed throughout half a year.
When Peter and the other children are seated, they immediately start to slap
their thighs looking intensively at Tom. This reciprocal engagement leads to a
welcome song. "Ay, ay, Peter is here", Tom sings. Some of the children move
their lips, some laugh or smile, but they continue to slap their thighs until
every child has got his or her name sung. Now the music session has
Their enthusiasm reveals that the situation is meaningful and that the teacher
is important to them. They are given the opportunity of sharing music. Tom is
selfaware when he teaches music to little children. In an interview he has said
that he wants to pass on the joy of musicking, of creating music together, the
sensitiveness of beautiful songs and of a music room thoughtfully prepared
with the purpose of letting the children delight in it. Tom's intention has a
noticeable effect on the children when they enter the music room and start the
thighslapping in time to the song that they know will come. Musicking becomes
an instant embodied reaction, it is easy to imagine that the children might
remember the song throughout adulthood, at least as a tacit bodily knowledge
that becomes activated when they enter a similar situation. Musicking is a
concept that stems from Christopher Small and his concern of music as a bodily,
meaningful experience (Small, 1998).
This identity work is noticeable for someone aware of the
impression that music can make on people. The episode mentioned indicates how
important it is that the researcher is conscious of details, such as how the
children orient the slaps on their thighs and their body language towards the
teacher who has invested time, particular commitment and effort in conveying
music to them.
Here we are reminded that what Tom chooses to do in the music sessions will
have an impact on the children's everyday life in kindergarten. If Tom had not
been aware of the effect of musicking with little children, if he for example
was more concerned with himself as a musician and the other adults in the
room, or he believed that oneyearolds were too young to perceive such details
as text and melody of a song, then this trustful relationship might not exist.
There is an asymmetry between an adult and a little child because of age and
experience, but the power in the relation between the two parts is here
balanced because they seem to trust each other and are concerned about a
specific matter: musicking. It is therefore relevant to map a discourse titled
"Musicking as an important activity in kindergarten".
The observation referred to is one effect of musicking and it fits well with
the homepage of the kindergarten, where the profile is on outdoor activities,
art and especially on music. There is coherence between the content of the
homepage and the teacher's attitude towards the children.
Example 3: A discourse about rituals
The third example, observing the teachers when putting all
the oneyearold children to bed in their outdoor prams for a twohour nap, is an
example of how routines structure daily life in this kindergarten, and how such
guidelines make the staff act in accordance with the rules and accept them as
good for the children. Whether the rain is pouring down or it is cold and
snowing, the children are put to bed outside. Every child here is accustomed to
it, so the prams are placed in a long line for the sake of convenience.
Outdoor sleeping is never questioned. When one child wakes up, the next follows
soon after. The teachers are efficient, targeted and seem satisfied.
This example illustrates on one hand how powerful rules and routines are when
they are normalized. They become a norm for this kindergarten and for how
routines are regulated. The source of a routine is the actual origin of the
power, but when everyone accepts the rule, it has become a truth pattern and
the staff act in accordance with it. Disclosing how truth patterns rule
activities may contribute to making the staff aware of how power mechanisms
permeate everyday life and make them act in certain ways and not in others.
Producing knowledge from discourses
From this review we have addressed three discourses that
contribute to the cultural formation of the children:
The children are active participants in the kindergarten society, seeing it
natural and normal to prepare the meals together with the staff.
There is coherence between how the kindergarten is presented on the website, as
a kindergarten with a strong attachment to music, art and outdoor activities,
and the way staff and children have mutual respect for each other.
Outdoor sleeping is not for practical reasons only, but also part of the
profile as a kindergarten targeting outdoor activities.
Knowledge about children and staff in kindergarten and their cultural formation
may be revealed in examples from everyday life, like how the meals are
organized or what cultural activities are offered to the children. Truth
patterns emerge from activity plans, daily routines and documents, web
presentations of the kindergarten, the schedule and the important dates of the
calendar. Disclosing how truth patterns rule activities may contribute to
making the staff aware of how power mechanisms permeate everyday life and make
people act in certain ways and not in others.
"The growing attention given to kindergartens today is shaped by a dominant
discourse", writes Dahlberg and Moss (2005, p. 18).
"It governs our ideas, thoughts and actions through language: in this discourse
concepts such as 'early interventions', 'investment in the future', 'child
development', 'outcomes', 'quality', 'costbenefit', 'best practice',
'readiness for school' become natural ways of speaking, as if they were the
only ways to think about early childhood services. It offers itself as truth,
but it is a product (as is any discourse) of particular power relations that
privilege certain perspectives over others." (Ibid).
If we, as researchers, don't ask how children and adult in kindergarten act and
speak, we will not be able to reveal underlying reasons and tacit rules that
make them act and speak as they do. When for example the annual cycle is
presented, it reflects a way to organize and structure the daily routines in
the kindergarten. If the manager of the kindergarten makes this plan, he or she
has the power of definition. The year is divided into months, weeks, mornings
and afternoons, routines and activities. By studying whether and how the
activity plan is followed by the staff, important knowledge will arise. If
music activities are scheduled weekly as an important activity, it is
interesting to see the effects of musicking with the children on a weekly
basis. If setting the table should include both children and staff, a study of
how such routines are solved is important. Further; routines for rest time is
of the same interest if it is scheduled on the annual cycle as a guideline.
The plan can be so governing that it is followed without anyone questioning
the content. They probably trust the manager.
Another interpretation might be that a kindergarten submits to requirements
because it is not normal to oppose its management. If so, there might be an
underlying struggle if the staff have not had any influence on the plan. One
consequence could be a kindergarten characterized by routines rather than
Both the manager and the staff could benefit from the researcher's mapping of
such conditions, in order to improve or make changes to existing practice. It
may often be the case that the staff has become blind to their everyday
practice and no longer see an appropriate way to make changes and find good
solutions. A researcher from the outside can get to see the "blind spots"
through field observations over time.